I don’t know about you, but I really used to hate focusing on the breath during meditation.
To begin with, my breath would be deep and full, my belly rising and falling naturally with each inhalation and exhalation. But the more I thought about it, the more esoteric the whole practice of breathing would seem. I’d find myself wondering things like, “What do I normally do with my cheeks when I breathe?” “Is there usually this much saliva in my mouth?” “I wonder if the Buddha’s mouth produced this much saliva…”
Things would get even worse if I was trying to follow instructions about the duration of breaths (in for two, out for three…), or whether and when I should breathe through my nose. In fact, it’s genuinely surprising that I never passed out.
Eventually, I learned to incorporate these challenges into my practice. Allowing this perfectly legitimate concern for the flow of oxygen to my brain to pass, without fixating on it, was the beginning of my rudimentary understanding of a less busy mind.
When I began taking lessons in the Alexander technique I soon came up against problem. Only now, my self conscious monologue would run in my head almost constantly as I went about my day; “Do I normally bend my legs this much when I walk?” “My shoulders feel relaxed, but are they too relaxed?” Or worst of all; “Is there usually this much saliva in my mouth? I wonder if Alexander’s mouth produced this much saliva…”
It was like that feeling you get when you’re walking past the girl or guy that you like, and you immediately lose all control of your higher motor functions, only it was all the time. The result was that instead of my movements becoming freer and easier, I became stiffer and less coordinated than I had been when I began.
Just as with meditation the hard fought solution was to learn to let these thoughts and worries go. To practice during lessons, and then to simply use my body the rest of the time, rather than trying to consciously figure out whether I was doing it “right”.
The goal of the Alexander technique, as with many mind-body disciplines, can be thought of as a return to a state of naturalness. But being natural isn’t easy. Paradoxically, the journey towards it will often be filled with the most unnatural moments imaginable until at long last, it becomes as natural as breathing.